Time is experienced in different ways. Some days are agonisingly slow, others fly by. Clocks and calendars can be used to measure time, but every measuring method has its shortcomings; the actual start of winter rarely coincides with the official meteorological winter. Nature is still important for our sense of time, though, it influences us constantly. In addition to day and night, changes in colour, texture, shape, and volume give us information about the passage of time in everything around us. Think of grey hair, a weathered surface, autumn leaves, the kind of plants that bloom, or ebb and flow. Yet we constantly try to minimize the influences of natural time: we dispel darkness with artificial light, fresh fruit and vegetables are available all year round, and we smoothen the wrinkles in our skin.
For farmers and growers, however, plants remain an important indicator of time, providing crucial clues as to the right time to sow or harvest. Conversely, plants can also provide insight into the cultural passage of time: crops grown in fields shed light on changing eating habits, garden plants are subject to trends. Underground seeds and plant remnants are therefore an important source for archaeologists: they provide information about climate, agricultural techniques, eating habits, population, and trade networks. A garden essentially is ‘constant change’, which you could read as a clock. In it, natural and cultural time intermingle, pass each other, and sometimes synchronize for a moment.
To visualize this sequence of minimal changes in a garden, artist Sanne Vaassen extracts the colours from the garden in Etzenrade. She soaks the plants, grasses, weeds, and flowers in pure alcohol, which extracts the colours from the plants and preserves these. She collects the liquid natural pigments in transparent square bottles. Each bottle contains the colour of one plant species. For one year, she collects new plants every month, creating a gradually growing colour diary. Like the archaeological finds on the site, the diary shows only a small facet of the original garden: scent, shape, numbers, and size are lost. Weeds are as important as the plants in the design; an accidental wild seedling is given as much space as a matrix grass of which there are hundreds. The abstract time course of the garden is made visible in a subtle colour palette of green, yellow, pink, and gold.
The transparent bottles are a reference to the origin of the flora in our gardens. Many of these plant species have been brought to Europe in the past in a Wardian case, the forerunner of the terrarium. Plants could survive for a long time in these boxes, protected against outside influences. The invention of the Wardian case provided the Western middle classes with exotic fruits, plants, and flowers, but the invention also had a downside: the collection of the plants was accompanied by violence, and had a negative impact on the economy and ecology in the countries of origin. Notwithstanding this negative history, the Wardian case has evolved into the conservatory we know today. A ‘space of care’ that functions as a climate and time capsule: fragile plants can be cared for, sown, and harvested independently of the seasons.
Text written by Joep Vossebeld for the exhibition In Search Of Sharawadgi at SCHUNCK in Heerlen (NL).
Click here for more info about the book that was especially made for the exhibition.
After Landscapes, alcohol, metal, plastic bottles, 220x80x80cm, 2021